With eager anticipation, both of my kids bounded from their beds this morning. They had their showers taken, lunches made, breakfasts eaten, and backpacks packed with twenty minutes to spare. I have done this enough years to know that this behavior is typical only for the first week of school, and the enthusiasm wanes thereafter.
Nevertheless, the first day of school is always an exciting one.
I can remember when our first “little” was entering kindergarten. I agonized the previous May about his schooling options.
Should we home school?
Send him to private school?
What about public school?
We prayed about it. I mulled it over in my heart and mind until it was thoroughly knocked around and dinged up from the processing. I talked about it ad nauseum with my girlfriends who were in the same season of life and struggling likewise. And when the time came, we stepped out in hesitant faith and made best decision we could with the information we had.
So it comes as no surprise, when every spring, I receive half a dozen inquiries from sweet mamas-of-five- year-olds as to why we made the decision to send our children to public schools. I can certainly empathize.
Now, you need to know that as a teacher, I believe all three options are equally valid. I believe nearly any child can receive a good education in any one of these environments, given the right circumstances. I believe that any child can grow to love Jesus wholeheartedly, whether home schooled, private schooled, or public schooled. I also believe there is no one right answer for everyone and that each family must make the decision which is best for them, regardless of what anyone else is doing. You also need to know that our family re-evaluates the decision every year, and that we will home school in a heartbeat if God asks us to (private school is not financially feasible for us).
Yet, for whatever hesitancy I had in making our original decision to enter the public schools, I am embarking on this year with incredible confidence that we are in the center of God’s will for our lives.
And here are few of the reasons listed on the “pros” side of our public school decision making list:
1. Because strength of character is formed in the crucible of struggle, not in the comfort of safety (which is often sought due to fear).
My husband was a youth pastor from 1994-2007. When our son was five years old, I asked him (my husband) to list the ten high schoolers in our current youth group at the time (of about 300) that we would want our children to grow to be like. We were looking for spiritual and social leadership, and a deep love for the things of God. Eight of the ten went to public schools. These students soaked up spiritual things, carried themselves with a joyful confidence, and were influential amongst their peers. I am sure that there are many things that contributed to their development, but it showed us that it was possible for a child to go through the public school system and be a person of deep conviction and character. Exposure to spiritual resistance and people from varying backgrounds likely enhanced the process (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-7). They were like oak trees whose roots had grown deep because of the winds that had blown against them.
It is likely that it is difficult to become a leader in your own home (since the leadership position is already taken by mom and dad), and through the process of interacting with peers, children learn discernment, define their convictions, and grow to be able to navigate conversations with others of different opinions.
2. Because grace is best learned in the context of community.
It’s easy to love and be loved in our own homes. But grace is learned and tested when we interact with lots of people, people that are different than us: The special needs child in the classroom that needs a little extra patience. The girl friend that says hurtful things because she feels insecure. The child three desks over that consistently makes poor choices. The friend that plays basketball a little too aggressively at recess.
All of these circumstances are opportunities to learn how to give undeserved favor (Luke 6:31-33). And, there are plenty of opportunities to be on the receiving end as well.
Not only this, but our family community has grown to include many more people than I would have otherwise have had the opportunity to know.
3. Because we aren’t looking to raise people of genius, rather we are raising ambassadors of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Sure, if I were to home school, my children would learn Latin, read the classics, become more advanced in their mathematics, and become proficient at some skill or talent (and boy, don’t think that doesn’t tempt me!). However, I have to keep reminding myself that this is not the goal of my parenting. Rather, my husband and I are called to raise little Christians that will shine their lights before men and will be on mission for Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:16; Matthew 28:19-20; Deuteronomy 6:5-9), representing Him in the communities in which He has planted them (Psalm 37:3). At what age and stage we are to place them in the public schools for this purpose is up for debate, but I believe that our church community has grown in part, because of the relationships that our children have forged within their schools and beyond. Three of their five principals have come to our church at one point or another. Our daughter led an informal 1st grade “bus Bible Study” for a year. We have had conversations with teachers about issues of faith, in reference to my son’s homework assignments. Ten young girls come to a faith club at our house once a month to grow and learn together. Each week my son takes part in a Bible study of 30 athletes from the public schools. Nearly every friend they have has been invited (and come) to church.
It’s not something to be admired in my children, it’s something to be expected of all of ours.
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